OVERCOMING FEAR, UNDERSTANDING SELF
BY FERN YIP
Sarah Anne Gibson began her extraordinary journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance five years ago.
Anne, a carpenter, ice climber and outdoor sports enthusiast, is transgender. Her story is one of courage, acceptance and a testament to the importance of inclusion and diversity in a small community.
Anne knew at a very young age that the male gender she had been assigned at birth did not match her true feelings of being female. When Anne was 11-years-old her mother found girls’ clothes in her room. She was experimenting with her identity by trying the clothes on.
Shortly afterwards, she was sent to a psychologist, therapy sessions Anne describes today as ‘scareapy.’ Although the sessions did not last long, they made Anne feel deeply guilty and ashamed of how she felt. They also made her recognize the dangers of expressing her authentic self. Back then there was even more extreme discrimination against anyone who did not fit into the heterosexual box, and there was no guidance or support for youth who found themselves wholly outside of it. For fear of being bullied, ostracized, or worse, Anne made the decision in those adolescent years to suppress her feelings and stop being herself. Instead, she learned to identify as a male.
“I did a lot of guy things” Anne says. “I hunted, shot guns, drag raced, did mechanics.”
At the time, no one around Anne, not even her family or close friends, knew about her inner conflict, but her authentic self continued to follow her like a shadow.
When Anne moved to Jasper about a decade ago, she found herself in a stable position in life, and with this new grounding came increased awareness and clarity. The feelings she had long suppressed rose again, but this time Anne was ready to explore them. Her search began at the most logical starting point—the internet. Through online forums, she was able to share feelings that she had long kept private and learned that other people had very similar experiences. The discovery that she was not alone led Anne to recognize that she was transgender. Connecting with the transgender community online led her to seek out neighbouring transgender communities in person. A group in Nelson, B.C. helped her to express herself as a woman in a public setting for the first time.
“It was wonderful, the feeling was so amazing. It just felt completely natural. That feeling helped me know that this was going to be my path.”
Eventually Anne realized that she wanted to express herself as a woman full time.
One of the first challenges Anne had to face in making the transition to being a woman was the fear of rejection. This fear was not unfounded. Discrimination against transgender individuals is very real and often results in the inability to find employment, high rates of poverty, depression, and suicide. There have also been a lot of violent hate crimes against transgender individuals. Between January 2008 and December 2014, 112 transgender and gender-diverse people were murdered in North America. Anxious and afraid that no one would accept her, Anne seriously considered moving away and coming out in a different community where perhaps anonymity would make things easier.
Before making any moves, however, Anne chose to confide in one of her closest friends, one she knew she could trust with her secret.
“To finally be able to tell someone was huge,” she said.
That first ally was pivotal. It gave Anne the courage to tell the rest of her circle of friends and her two sons. Their immediate reaction was nothing short of total acceptance. Knowing that she had the unquestionable support of her closest friends and her two sons, Anne decided to come out in Jasper. Following that, the momentum of support continued to build from her coworkers to the wider community. In fact, Anne remarks that she “has not had one negative experience” in her transition. Instead she feels that the community is there for her.
“I’ve got a whole town backing me up.”
When asked if she regretted that there were no opportunities to come out when she was younger, Anne replied that she was happy to have the opportunity to have a family.
“I got to have a family and two kids,” she said. “I’m glad the time to come out came later in life.”
Although Anne’s story is an uplifting one, it is unfortunately not as common as it should be. She chooses to share her story with others so that others who find themselves in a similar position may be encouraged to do the same.
“You’ve got to be who you are and be okay with it.”